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Homage to Man Ray

Perhaps what Jerry Uelsmann and Man Ray have most in common is the conviction that photography isn’t just for recording moments of reality, but for creating riveting images. Both subvert the currency of photographic fact. Both believe that factual description is only one aspect of the vast territory of photography.

Man Ray is a looming figure in 20th-century photography and art. Born in 1890, Ray went to Paris at age 30 and was a member of the dadaist and surrealist movements. He not only painted, he also took photographs, sculpted and created mixed-media art. He was also one of the first photographers to use solarization, a technique Uelsmann sometimes uses in which tones are reversed, darks becoming light and lights becoming dark. Ray died in 1976, but has been hugely influential, especially in recent decades, as the rest of the art world has caught up with him.

Some of the same things could be said about Jerry Uelsmann. Early on, he dabbled in surrealism but later gave it up for something larger and less able to be categorized. In addition, Uelsmann himself has had an increasing influence as the rest of the photography world has caught up with him.

Uelsmann hesitates to talk about the meaning of his photographs. He doesn’t have any hidden agenda about how viewers should think or feel about his works. Beyond that, he believes that the technical aspects of a photograph are beside the point. What’s important is the content of the image, how it makes you feel, the personal connections it brings up and the parts of the image that stick with you days and weeks later.

Uelsmann says: “The viewer has to complete the cycle, has to project into it in certain ways. All the information is there, and yet the mystery remains.”

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